After Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum made his now-famous “Whatever it takes” post on Facebook in early September announcing Tulsa’s attempt to lure retail giant Amazon’s second corporate headquarters, he immediately got to work.
Within days, Bynum had put together a group of about 50 volunteers — all with diverse backgrounds in areas like business, art, or computers — to craft the city’s pitch.
Attracting Amazon — and the up-to 50,000 jobs that would come with it — is a tall order. But Bynum is known for his zeal and optimism, and though he knows Tulsa is an underdog, he told the group of volunteers not to view the project through that lense.
“I’m a year removed from being a guy who was supposed to lose the mayor’s race by 30 points a week out (from election day,) and who won by 18 points,” Bynum said. “I didn’t listen to the naysayers.”
In that meeting the 50 volunteers were split into subgroups, Bynum said, and have been working since to finalize Tulsa’s proposal, which is due Oct. 19.
The process has been “a tremendous experience,” Bynum said, noting that it has differed from other corporate relocation efforts in that there’s no broad non-disclosure agreements and, due to Amazon’s high-profile, a clear view of who the city is flirting with.
“Usually we wouldn’t even know whose guidance to tap into or even to seek because we’d be sworn to secrecy through an NDA,” Bynum said. “Usually when we get one of these opportunities, a couple of people at City Hall know and the chamber know, but we don’t know who the company is because it’s shrouded in secrecy.”
But everyone knows who Amazon is, and although the full benefits of the 50,000 jobs the company would eventually bring to Tulsa is unknown, it also can’t be underestimated.
But it is a longshot. When Amazon announced it was seeking to build a second corporate headquarters, it came with a list of demands — things a city should have in place if they hoped to win. It’s probably no surprise that Tulsa didn’t check off every piece of that list.
However, Bynum is undeterred. Though some have compared the project to the city’s much-maligned bid three years ago to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, Bynum said he wouldn’t waste anyone’s time on a silly notion.
And, he said, considering the abbreviated timeline Amazon has given cities across the nation to craft their pitch, the “cost-benefit ratio” of the entire process is low.
“The greatest thing we lose if we aren’t chosen will be a few weeks of focus,” he said. “The greatest thing we win if we are successful is the most significant corporate recruitment in American history.
“One of the most common things I’ve heard is ‘Oh I think it’s great you’re applying, even if we don’t win it’s a good training exercise.’ I wanted to make it crystal clear this isn’t a training exercise. It’s not a test run, this is the Super Bowl.”
Although Tulsa may not appear to be a perfect fit for Amazon, Bynum believes there’s no such thing. While there are cities who can throw more money and larger population bases at the company, “that doesn’t mean the quality of their proposal is better than what we can offer.”
“The reality is every city in America has challenges. There’s no city that everything is going amazing and there’s no problems, so I don’t let that distract us,” he said. “We’ve had more companies show more interest in coming to visit Tulsa and relocate in the first three months of 2017 than in all of 2016.
“The average person isn’t meeting those folks and they don’t know there’s this fever pitch in relocating to Tulsa, but I know it.”
So as the deadline nears, expect Bynum to keep dreaming big.
“Some people will assume our best days are behind us,” he said. “Those aren’t the types of people who would have built skyscrapers in Tulsa in the 1920s, or built an airport, or made us ‘The Oil Capital of The World.’ To accomplish that you have to aim high.”
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